In December of last year, my husband and I began our 2nd round of IVF and our 3rd round of treatment since we began our fertility journey 5 years ago. We had spent 3 months preparing our bodies and minds; following all of the advice I hand out on a daily basis…walking the walk. I cut gluten and processed dairy out of my diet, meditated daily, visualised our baby in my arms, had weekly acupuncture, regular hypnotherapy, ate a nutrient dense diet, got plenty of sleep and exercise…
I did all the things.
When the time came to pick up the enormous bag of drugs from our local pharmacy, I felt ready. Third time was surely the charm. I welcomed every scan, every blood draw, every bruise on my belly from self administered injections. Third time would be the charm. I’d look back on this time with gratitude and rose tinted glasses.
Our previous round of treatment had resulted in OHSS or Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome, which can be lethal. This time, the drug protocol was adjusted with the hope of avoiding such a risky outcome with fewer, better quality eggs.
Our egg retrieval harvested 3 eggs.
The clinic staff seemed disappointed, but this is precisely what I had visualised – 3 juicy mature eggs. We avoided OHSS and the lab report on those eggs was good. Of those 3 eggs, 2 fertilised successfully and so, 3 days later, we transferred 2 beautiful, high grade embryos. 14 days later, I got my first ever positive pregnancy result.
We were elated and shocked and delighted and stunned…and not the least bit surprised.
The treatment had worked at last. We would be parents. We would be epic parents. We’d get it all right. Within days we had picked names and measured up the spare room for nursery furniture. ‘What if we had twins? We’d need 2 cots!!’ The thought of twins no longer scared the bejaysus out of me. If I could get through 5 years of fertility tests and treatment, I could do this too! We celebrated the nausea & the fatigue. We began to consider birthing options. We celebrated Christmas & New Year knowing we’d never have another quiet, lazy Christmas again.
At seven and a half weeks, the day before our early pregnancy scan, I began to spot. I knew this was quite normal. I reassured my husband that we had nothing to worry about. That night I did not sleep as excruciating cramps wracked my body. I knew this was not normal. Bleeding and cramping were a bad sign. Google confirmed our suspicions and also told us there was nothing to worry about. We rang a dear GP friend who, in a serious voice, told us to stay put. She said there was nothing to gain by going to hospital in the middle of the night. She said there was nothing to do but wait until morning. So we waited, as I sweated and groaned.
Our early pregnancy scan confirmed that I was in the process of miscarrying.
What is it with that word? Mis-carry. It sounds like I messed up, doesn’t it? That I carried those babies incorrectly, somehow. Losing a baby – same story. I didn’t lose anything. Maybe they lost me?
Kind midwives and consultants at The Early Pregnancy Unit of The Rotunda Hospital confirmed a complete miscarriage later that week. For two weeks I bled and cramped and cried. By some small grace, I didn’t need any further intervention. I was saved from more needles, more scans, more procedures.
Did you know, 1 in 4 pregnancies ends in miscarriage? That rate increases to 1 in 2 if Mum is over 40.
Even if you haven’t had the conversation, chances are a woman in your group of friends has lost a baby. Why don’t we talk about it? What are we to do with our grief? How do we navigate a path like this in silence? I know that I could barely string a sentence together in those two weeks, apart from long rambling late night conversations with my husband. He handled the phone calls, he delivered the news as I sat beside him in tears.
For those on the outside, miscarriage can seem like a stepping stone. “You can get pregnant, this is great news! You can try again and next time it’ll work!!” I think it’s worth pointing out here that miscarriage after IVF is different. Our only option for having a family is fertility treatment. That may not be the case for everyone, but it is for many. Relaxing, letting everything go and trusting in the universe will not result in a pregnancy for us. ‘Trying Again’ means thousands of Euro, months of preparation, weeks of drugs, scans and needles. Yes, there are options we have declined. Yes, there are endless tests and procedures we could consider. We are aware of all of the options out there.
Where do you draw the line though? When is enough, enough?
Should we sell our car, move into a cheap bedsit, work 2 jobs each? Maybe…maybe we should make those sacrifices. I know couples who do and their determination astounds me. When I was a little girl I didn’t dream of being a mother. In my 20’s the idea didn’t hold much appeal. When I met my husband we discussed the possibility of not being able to have children and agreed we still wanted to be together, regardless. My identity is not tied up with bearing children, it never has been. Even so, I was ready to be a Mama. I wanted those babies in my arms.
Making the decision not to pursue further treatment was the hardest one we’ve ever made.
Saying no more to IVF is more than saying no to children. It’s saying no to early morning giggles, to sticky hands grabbing my legs as I cook, to conversations about cloth nappies and breastfeeding. Saying no more means saying goodbye to those communities I was so excited to be part of. Saying no more is saying no to evolving as a parent with the man I love. Saying no more might exclude us from baby showers, naming ceremonies & kiddie birthday parties. Saying no more changes the way other women perceive me; I cannot possibly understand their life. I envy the mess, the learnings, the struggles, the joy, the laughter and the love they have. They envy my clean sofa, beautiful artwork and long lie-ins. Despite our very different lives, I am determined to love and support the Mamas in my life and I hope that they can love & support me too.
3 months on and my heart is still broken. The moments of sadness take my breath away and buckle my knees sometimes. I actively choose to take pleasure from the smile of little children and the beautiful innocence in their faces. It’s either that or bitterness and resentment and those feelings don’t sit well in my body. I actively choose to seek out joy and pleasure, and I believe that is a choice I can make.
When we began this journey, I naively thought that if it didn’t work out for us we’d get some counselling and move on. We’d choose new adventures and creative projects. Maybe we’d get a puppy or a kitten. Life would be rewarding and fulfilling in a different way. For me, at least, it is not that simple. Exciting holidays, beautiful furniture & spiritual journeys will never replace the children we dreamed of and almost met. There may be fulfillment in other creative pursuits, but none of them are a replacement for having children. I hate the decision that we have made and yet, it is a decision I am certain is the right one.
I believe the sadness will always be with me. I have to make space to hold that sadness alongside the joy and love in my life. The learning curve is steep and I am doing my best to figure it out with an open heart. In the last 3 months, I’ve made another decision; I cannot continue to offer support to women who are on their own fertility journey. Not just because I’d feel like a fraud (and I think a part of me would) but because it would hurt too much. Showing up every day for women who are trying to get pregnant would deliver daily injuries to my heart. So, I have made another big decision. I have chosen to protect my heart and bow out of this work.
This website will remain and I will continue to blog, though perhaps with a changing, evolving focus. The Fertility Companion will soon be available as a self guided programme so you can access all of the resources I’ve built over the last 5 years. I will be spending a heck of a lot less time on social media and much more time on my mountain bike, in the hills around Dublin. Who knows what the future holds…if you’d like to be follow my journey watch this space and follow me on Facebook and if you need a chat, reach out. I’m not going anywhere.